Drug War Chronicle

comprehensive coverage of the War on Drugs since 1997

Chronicle AM: NJ Pot Legalization Hearing, Pittsburgh Ponders Decrimalization, More (11/17/15)

Pot legalization was on the agenda in New Jersey, and decriminalization was on the table in Pittsburgh yesterday, West Virginia lawmakers ponder a food stamp drug testing bill, and more. 

Marijuana Policy

New Jersey Senate Committee Holds Hearing on Legalization. Led by Sen. Nicholas Scutari (D), the Senate Judiciary Committee Monday heard from marijuana legalization advocates, leading Scutari to clash with Sen. Joh Kyrillos (R), who complained that anti-legalization voices were not heard. Earlier, Scutari had said that anti-legalization voices would be heard at a later hearing. Monday's panelists included policy advocates, doctors, and representatives from law enforcement.

Pittsburgh to Take Up Decriminalization Bill. A bill to decriminalize small-time pot possession in the city was to be introduced today. The ordinance, based on a similar one in Philadelphia last year, would make possession of less than 30 grams of marijuana or public pot smoking a civil violation with a $100 fine. The bill is being sponsored by Councilman Daniel Lavelle.

Medical Marijuana

Florida Medical Marijuana Initiative Has Nearly 350,000 Signatures. The initiative from United for Care has already gathered 342,582 valid voter signatures. That puts it half-way to the 683,179 valid voter signatures to place the initiative on the November 2016 ballot. Petitioners have until February to get the rest of the signatures.

Drug Testing

West Virginia Legislature Ponders Welfare Drug Testing. Lawmakers Monday discussed a draft bill to allow for drug testing of some food stamp recipients. The bill would limit drug testing to people for whom there is "reasonable suspicion" of drug use. That suspicion could be aroused by an initial drug screening, if the person has a drug conviction in the past five years, and if a newborn baby born to the food stamp recipient tests positive for drugs. The bill would also allow child welfare authorities to investigate people who failed or did not take a drug test. The bill will likely be formally introduced in January.

Chronicle AM: Canada Starts to Move on Legalizing Pot, Irish Cops Support Heroin Decriminalization, More (11/16/15)

Nick Scutari tries to get the marijuana legalization ball rolling in New Jersey, a petition calling for the DEA head to be fired is going strong, Democratic candidates talk drug and crime policy at the debate, Canada moves toward pot legalization, Irish cops support heroin decrim, and more. 

Ireland's drugs minister wants to decriminalize heroin, and the cops are on board with it. (wikimedia.org)
Marijuana Policy

New Jersey Legislative Hearing on Pot Legalization Today. Sen. Nicholas Scutari (D), who filed a marijuana legalization bill, S 1896, earlier this session, is holding a hearing on the topic today. Today's witnesses will include supporters of marijuana law reform; opponents will get a chance to opine at a later hearing. No vote is expected today. "A journey of a thousand steps starts with the first," said Scutari, who as chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, called the hearing. "The first step was introducing the bill and this is the natural next step — to talk about the benefits of legalization and the negative impact prohibition has had."

Medical Marijuana

Petition To Fire DEA Head Over Medical Marijuana "Joke" Comment Has 80,000 Signatures. Uh, make that 83,044 signatures as of mid-afternoon today. DEA Administrator Chuck Rosenberg is still getting heat over his statement that medical marijuana is "a joke." It's just his latest comment suggesting the nation's top drug cop is not that well-informed in his subject area.

Florida Supreme Court Cancels Medical Marijuana Initiative Hearing. Backers of a 2016 medical marijuana initiative have just seen one obstacle removed from their path. After Attorney General Pam Bondi (R) announced she would ask the high court to block the initiative, the state Supreme Court has canceled a hearing on it set for December 8. The initiative from United for Care is already well-advanced in the signature gathering process. A similar initiative failed last year with 58% of the vote—60% was needed because it was a constitutional amendment.

Illinois Sees More Than $200,000 in Medical Marijuana Sales in First Week. Only a handful of dispensaries are open in the state, but they took in $211,000 in sales after opening last Monday. The medi-weed was selling for around $450 an ounce, or $16 a gram.

Heroin and Prescription Opiates

EEOC Sues Employer Who Refused to Hire Methadone User. In its latest lawsuit against employers taking actions against prescription medication users, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission is going after a company that allegedly refused to hire a woman who is prescribed methadone to deal with her heroin addiction. EEOC alleges that the company is violating the Americans With Disabilities Act because the woman is a recovering substance abuser, has a history of disability, and was "regarded" as disabled based on her methadone use. EEOC has also sued other employers over discrimination against methadone patients, as well as other prescription drug users.

Drug Policy

Democratic Candidates Talk Drug, Crime Policy in Last Saturday's Debate. Bernie Sanders reiterated his support for ending federal marijuana prohibition, while Martin O'Malley and Hillary Clinton joined Sanders in calling for criminal justice reforms and addressing racial inequalities in the criminal justice system. Click on the link for more details.

International

Canada's Prime Minister Begins the Process of Legalizing Marijuana. Freshly-elected Liberal Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has instructed Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould to begin the process of legalizing and regulating marijuana. Trudeau told Wilson-Raybould he expected her to "deliver on your top priorities," which includes "Working with the Ministers of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness and Health, create a federal-provincial-territorial process that will lead to the legalization and regulation of marijuana."

Mexico to Consider Cutting Jail Sentences, Raising Possession Limits for Marijuana. Jumpstarted by a Supreme Court decision earlier this month allowing four Mexicans to use marijuana, the forthcoming national debate on marijuana policy will consider easing jail sentences and raising limits for personal possession of pot, Deputy Interior Minister Roberto Campa said. The national consultation is set for January through March.

Irish Police Back Decriminalizing Heroin Possession. The Garda Representative Association, which represents some 11,000 Irish police officers, is backing the government drug minister's call to decriminalize heroin possession. "I think anything that can deal with the curse of drugs and some innovating thinking on this is to be welcomed," the GRA’s general secretary, PJ Stone, said, adding that the proposal would be seen as a brave move. "We don’t even have enough cells to lock up drug users who get arrested for possessing drugs," a GRA member from Dublin added.

(This article was prepared by StoptheDrugWar.org's lobbying arm, the Drug Reform Coordination Network, which also pays the cost of maintaining this web site. DRCNet Foundation takes no positions on candidates for public office, in compliance with section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code, and does not pay for reporting that could be interpreted or misinterpreted as doing so.)

Chronicle AM: Mid-Atlantic MedMJ Moves, Bolivia's President Chooses Official Coca Drink, More (11/13/15)

Applicants have overwhelmed Maryland medical marijuana regulators, a New Jersey school becomes the first in the country to allow medical marijuana on campus, Bolivia's president chooses an official beverage, and more.

This coca liqueur is now the official drink of the Bolivian presidential palace.
Medical Marijuana

Large Number of Applicants Will Delay Maryland Program. Nearly 900 people have applied to grow or sell medical marijuana in the state, and that is going to delay the program's rollout, Hannah Byron, the executive director of the state's medical marijuana commission said Thursday. She said the commission will extend the application period and revise the timeline, which had originally anticipated the first stage of the application review would be done by January.

New Jersey School Becomes First in Nation to Permit Medical Marijuana on Campus. The Larc School in Bellmawr Wednesday night adopted a policy allowing a teenage girl with autism and epilepsy to consume medical marijuana edibles while at school. The move comes just two days after Gov. Chris Christie (R) signed into law a bill requiring school districts to adopt such policies.

Drug Policy

Senate Drug Caucus to Hold Hearing on Border, Mexican Anti-Drug Assistance Next Week. The Senate Caucus on International Narcotics Control will hold a hearing to examine drug trafficking across the Southwest border on Tuesday. The hearing will focus on the increase in illicit narcotics crossing the Southwest Border, the cartels profiting from this activity, and the nature and effectiveness of U.S. counternarcotics assistance to Mexico in reducing this flow, combatting corruption, and strengthening the rule of law.  The following witnesses have confirmed that they will attend: Mr. Michael Botticelli, Director, Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP); Ambassador William Brownfield, Assistant Secretary of State for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs (INL); Mr. Jack Riley, Acting Deputy Administrator, Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA); and Todd Owen, Assistant Commissioner Office of Field Operations, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP)

International

 

. Former coca grower union leader President Evo Morales has announced that a coca leaf liquor, Cocablue, is the official drink of the presidential palace. Every bottle of Cocablue (111° proof) liqueur contains 69 grams of coca leaf extract that has been decocainized and is distilled five times. One vintage is released every year and each bottle is recorded, signed and numbered. The Mayan blue colorr is said to be a natural by-product of an artisanal handcrafting technique.

Chronicle AM: Petition to Fire DEA Head Gains Traction, Colombia OKs Medical Marijuana, More (11/12/15)

There are now more than 27,000 signatures on a petition asking President Obama to fire DEA head Chuck Rosenberg over his medical marijuana comments, Denver thinks a thousand pot shops is enough, Colombia will allow medical marijuana, and more. 

Coca and cocaine production is on the upswing in Colombia. (deamuseum.org)
Marijuana Policy

ResponsibleOhio Isn't Going Away. The group behind this month's defeated marijuana "monopoly" legalization initiative isn't going quietly into that long good night; instead, ResponsibleOhio is now trying to craft an initiative that can actually win. The group seems to understand that its plan to limit commercial grow opportunities and its bud-headed mascot, Buddie, were real turn-offs.

Denver Moves Toward a Moratorium on New Pot Shops. The city is proposing changes to its marijuana ordinances that would effectively halt new marijuana stores from opening for the next two years. The city currently has more than a thousand licensed operations, and that's enough, city officials said. "We have enough marijuana in Denver," said Ashley Kilroy, Denver's executive director of Marijuana Policy. "Basically, we’re saturated." The only exceptions would be some 85 medical marijuana businesses that were licensed in 2013.

Medical Marijuana

Petition to Fire DEA Head for Calling Medical Marijuana "A Joke" Now Has 16,000 Signatures. People so inclined can add theirs here. Actually, the petition now has some 27,000 signatures, having gained 11,000 more since the linked story was published yesterday.

Kansas City Hospitals Deny Cannabis Oil to Epileptic Patients. That's Kansas City, Missouri. The state passed a law last year allowing for such use, but no hospitals in the Kansas City area will allow their doctors to write a recommendation. The hospitals cite lack of standardized dosages for children and concerns about side-effects and interactions with other medications. Children's Mercy Hospital in Kansas City will start a study on cannabis oil for epileptic patients next year, but has no plans to widely recommend it. On the other side of the state, the Comprehensive Epilepsy Care Center in St. Louis does allow doctors to write recommendations.

Asset Forfeiture

Ohio Prosecutors Lobby Against Asset Forfeiture Reform. County prosecutors from across the state lined up Wednesday to testify against House Bill 347, which would eliminate asset forfeiture without a criminal conviction. They called the tactic "a vital tool" in going after drug traffickers during a hearing of the House Judiciary Committee. Click on the link for more flavor.

International

Colombia Will Allow Medical Marijuana. Colombian Justice Minister Yesid Reyes said today that the country plans to legalize the production and sale of medical marijuana. Legalization will only apply to medical and scientific uses of the plant, he clarified. Pot possession is already legalized under Colombian Supreme Court rulings, but this move will allow for commercial medical production.

Colombia Retakes Title of World's Largest Cocaine Producer. Colombia is back on top in the cocaine production sweepstakes, according to the UN Office on Drugs and Crime. The organization puts Colombian production last year at 175,000 acres, compared to 109,000 for Peru, and 31,000 for Bolivia. The UN estimates Colombian cocaine production will increase 52% this year, in part because of the end of aerial eradication and in part because peasants believe that a looming peace deal between the government and the FARC will see benefits for farmers who abandon their crops, so they are planting coca. 

The 2015 International Drug Reform Conference is Next Week in DC! [FEATURE]

This article was produced in collaboration with AlterNet and first appeared here

The world's premier drug policy reform conference is set for next week in suburban Washington, DC. Hosted by the Drug Policy Alliance, the 2015 International Drug Policy Reform Conference will bring well over a thousand experts and advocates together beginning next Wednesday evening and going through next Saturday evening.

Drug Policy Alliance head Ethan Nadelmann provides a stemwinder keystone speech. (osi.org)
This biennial conference is the de rigueur event of drug policy reform, and DPA's co-hosts include the ACLU, the Harm Reduction Coalition, Institute of the Black World, the International Drug Policy Consortium, Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, Marijuana Policy Project, Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies, National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, Open Society Foundations, Samuel DeWitt Proctor Conference, Students for Sensible Drug Policy, and more.

People will be attending from around the country and around the planet, and the conference will be covering international as well as domestic drug policy concerns.

This year's conference couldn't come at a more exciting and propitious time for drug policy reform: Marijuana legalization is on the march in the US and across the world, outrageous drug sentences in the US are starting to be undone, the UN General Assembly Special Session on Drugs is set for next year, the global prohibitionist consensus is crumbling, and a more enlightened future awaits -- if we can get there from here.

And that's what the conference is about: effecting change. Attendees will be hearing from experts not only in science, medicine, and law, but also from the activists and elected and appointed officials who have successfully made reform happen.

The conference will feature a live national town hall exploring the intersections between drug reform and the Black Lives Matter movement, documentary film screenings, tours of Washington, DC's drug war history, three dozen community-based sessions, and too many panels for any one human to attend in person. (thankfully, DPA will be recording all the sessions for future reference.)

Here's just a taste of what's in store:

Ensuring Inclusion, Repairing Damage: Diversity, Equity and the Marijuana Industry

  • This roundtable will focus on how the war on drugs has harmed multiple generations through criminalization and mass incarceration. As marijuana legalization efforts move forward, who will control the industry and what will be the barriers to entry? Most importantly, how can the "green rush" be a road to repair for the traditionally marginalized and underserved?

How could weed not be on the agenda?
Beyond Marijuana: The Impact of Marijuana Legalization on Broader Drug Policy Reforms

  • Despite marijuana's broad and growing social acceptance, marijuana law violations make up almost half of all drug arrests nationally. Because of this, marijuana legalization is often touted as the first step toward dismantling the war on drugs, but legalization advocates often distinguish the substance from other illicit drugs. With this in mind, how can marijuana legalization further the movement to decriminalize other drugs?

The Drug War and the Militarization/Bastardization of the Police

  • Even though some communities have always known police brutality, issues of impunity of action and corruption are now touching upon the mainstream like never before. Supported by lawmakers and the judiciary, the police have become militarized and bastardized. What has caused the condoning of an ever increasing violent police force and how has the politics and violence of the drug trade and the drug war directly assisted with this phenomenon?

MDMA and Other Psychedelics: What Does Legal Access Look Like?

  • We all agree that criminalization of all drugs needs to end, and marijuana legalization has provided one model for that. Public and political support for moving immediately to the same model for other drugs is low -- so in what other ways can we end criminalization and create legal access for MDMA and other psychedelic drugs? What would a medical model look like? Would a spiritual model using approved guides work for something like ayahuasca? What about licensing users or specific venues? And would any of these models show promise for drugs with addiction potential like cocaine, methamphetamine or heroin?

Reform For Those Who Sell Drugs: The Third Rail of Drug Policy Reform

  • This roundtable will broach the subject of advocating for drug sellers. As we look to minimize the use of the criminal justice system where drug policy is concerned, how do we distinguish the drug dependent subsistence dealer and the more common mid-level drug dealer who's not dependent? Does compassion and the public health approach extend to those who sell drugs?

The Future of Digital Spaces, Drug Sales and Drug Policy

  • Shutting down the Silk Road and sentencing Ross Ulbricht to life in prison not only failed to end global online drug transactions, but actually led to having more digital drug marketplaces today than ever before. Join leading experts to discuss the benefits and risks of this new model of drug sales and how they can be used to help end the war on drugs.

Supervised Injection Facilities

  • Supervised injection facilities (SIFs) have been a crucial part of harm reduction initiatives allowing people to consume illicit drugs in a supervised, often clinical space. However, questions remain concerning the advantages SIFs offer and their role in addressing the HIV epidemic among people who use drugs. This session will cover campaigns and strategies, both in the United States and internationally.

There will be sessions on psychedelics. (wikimedia.org)
Drugs and America's Pop Culture: America's Untold Story!

  • From Bob Dylan to Nina Simone, Paul Robeson and Harry Belafonte, successful American artists have traditionally played a leading role in addressing social and political issues of their time. Have political activism and America's pop culture parted ways? If the criminal justice system is today's civil rights issue, what will it take to engage a cadre of pop artists who fully embrace art as politics?

Criminalized, Marginalized and "Othered": Lessons and Strategies for Fighting the Drug War in Hard Places

  • This roundtable will focus on the diverse demographics among drug users. From pregnant women to individuals in LGBT circles and HIV-affected communities, what strategies are working and what can our movement learn about organizing with criminalized, marginalized and transient constituencies? How do we build a more robust movement that addresses the challenges and concerns of those least visible and most vulnerable to drug war policies?

What Does Drug Education and Prevention Look Like in the Age of Marijuana Legalization?

  • Despite successful marijuana legalization campaigns in Colorado, Washington, and the District of Columbia and California's potential legalization vote in 2016, the rhetoric of "Reefer Madness" type messages are being renewed even though recent studies show that teen marijuana use is falling as more states legalize it. This discussion will bring together drug education and prevention experts to highlight the current research findings and map out a path for effective drug education and prevention in the age of legalization.

United Nations: What's the Opportunity?

  • The UN General Assembly Special Session (UNGASS) on Drugs is less than a year away. This gathering presents an immense opportunity to build international momentum to end the war on drugs and highlight countries that have taken significant steps in implementing sensible drug laws. This roundtable will focus on the set of "outside game" strategies taking place and ways in which UNGASS can advance the drug policy movement's common agenda.

Are the Party Kids Any Safer Yet? EDM Festivals, the Music Industry and Harm Reduction

  • Festival event producers are in a tough spot: always trying to balance demands for "zero tolerance" drug-free events versus trying their best to prepare for attendees who will use drugs. How are festivals starting to integrate drug education and onsite harm reduction services to keep their attendees safe? What challenges and limitations still remain? Will a national effort to change federal RAVE Act legislation clear the path? What more could be done?

E-Cigs and the Future of Maintenance Therapies

  • Electronic cigarettes have been the center of considerable controversy between those who see them as a public health threat and those who see them as a valuable harm reduction tool. This roundtable will discuss e-cigs as an alternative source of nicotine for those who c annot or will not quite smoking traditional cigarettes and whether these devices could herald a new era of maintenance therapies or a new era of cracking down on them.

See you there!

South Dakota Law Can Get You Busted for Using Marijuana in Another State [FEATURE]

This article was produced in collaboration with AlterNet and first appeared here.

South Dakota's Flandreau Santee Sioux Tribe announced over the weekend that it was suspending operations on its marijuana resort set to open on New Year's Eve and that it had burnt its pot crop. The tribe said it was seeking "clarification" from the Justice Department to ensure "the continued success of the marijuana venture."

The move comes as at least three other Indian tribes that have embarked on marijuana operations after the Justice Department seemingly gave them a green light last year have been raided by the DEA, a Justice Department agency. At this point, Indian tribes have reason to be nervous about what the federal stance really is.

But the Flandreau pot operation also drew fast and intense opposition from the state's Republican political establishment and law enforcement figures. And that opposition has brought renewed attention to one of the most bizarre state marijuana laws in the land, South Dakota's "internal possession" law.

As Republican state Attorney General Marty Jackley warned -- twice -- when the tribe announced its plans in June, "South Dakota law prohibits the internal and physical possession, distribution, and manufacture of marijuana by: (1) all non-Indian persons anywhere in South Dakota including within Indian country; (2) all persons, including tribal members, outside of Indian Country."

The sheriff and prosecutor of Moody County, where the Flandreau reservation is located, reiterated Jackley's point.

"Bottom line," said Sheriff Troy Wellman, "if you're non-native, it's illegal for you to have marijuana in your system, regardless of whether you're on tribal ground."

"If you are a non-tribal member that goes over onto that property and ingests marijuana in any form, you are breaking the laws in the state of South Dakota," Moody County State's Attorney Paul Lewis added.

If you do this in Denver, it get could get you busted in Deadwood.
They're not kidding. Under a state law passed in 2001 and upheld by the state Supreme Court in 2004, you can be arrested, tried, and convicted for having marijuana in your system, even if you ingested it in another state or country (or Indian reservation).

Someone who legally smokes marijuana in Colorado and then drives across the prairie to South Dakota can be charged with the crime of having smoked marijuana elsewhere. It's the same for medical marijuana patients in states bordering South Dakota. Someone who holds a Minnesota or Montana medical marijuana card, uses his medicine, and then travels to South Dakota can be charged with the crime of having medicated where it is legal.

Here is the law:

22-42-15. Ingesting substance, except alcoholic beverages, for the purpose of becoming intoxicated as misdemeanor--Venue for violation. Any person who intentionally ingests, inhales, or otherwise takes into the body any substance, except alcoholic beverages as defined in § 35-1-1, for purposes of becoming intoxicated, unless such substance is prescribed by a practitioner of the medical arts lawfully practicing within the scope of the practitioner's practice, is guilty of a Class 1 misdemeanor. The venue for a violation of this section exists in either the jurisdiction in which the substance was ingested, inhaled, or otherwise taken into the body or the jurisdiction in which the substance was detected in the body of the accused.

A Class 1 misdemeanor in South Dakota is punishable by up to a year in jail and/or a $2,000 fine. That's the same penalty as for simple marijuana possession.

Note that the law specifically allows for prosecuting people for internal possession either where they ingested the substance or where it was detected.

It's not that the cops in South Dakota are randomly accosting passersby and demanding they submit to drug tests -- probable cause is needed -- but what typically happens is that someone is arrested and police then intimidate him into consenting to a urine drug test during booking. The person is then hit with another criminal charge -- internal possession -- providing more leverage for prosecutors during plea negotiations.

"The cops took me downtown and said if I didn't piss for them, they'd stick something in my dick and take it by force," Huron resident Dave Johnson said of his 2003 internal possession bust. "They were going to take it forcefully -- that's what they told me. So I said okay."

That's still how it works. People being booked into jails are told they need to provide a urine test, and if they demur, they are threatened with a court order and the prospect of forced drug testing. Of course, consenting to such drug tests makes it impossible for defense attorneys to challenge them in court, but agreeing to be tested means not only is the prospect of a forced drug test avoided, but also that the defendant will likely be booked and released instead of being held until he can appear before a judge for a warrant hearing.

Get popped for pot possession in South Dakota and count on getting popped for "internal possession," too. (wikimedia.org)
"I defend a lot of drug cases," said Huron attorney Ron Volesky, "and I've defended several of these urine sample cases, but I haven't yet seen an instance where we could challenge a court order because everyone has voluntarily consented. As a practical matter, when the police pick someone up they say, 'Look, we can do it the hard way or the easy way; you can voluntarily consent because we have probable cause, or we can wake up the judge, have him sign an order, and take you down and have you catheterized.' They basically threaten you," said Volesky.

While South Dakota residents are the most frequent victims of the state's internal possession law, it could happen to anyone, especially visitors unaware of the law. And they don't even have to get arrested for something to face a possible prosecution. Imagine you're a medical marijuana patient visiting Rapid City for a shopping trip and your car gets T-boned by a drunk driver who runs a red light. Hospitals routinely test the blood of accident victims. Congratulations, you've just become a criminal.

South Dakota, where you can get busted for something you did legally elsewhere. Probably not a slogan the state tourism board is going to select anytime soon.

SD
United States

This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

This week, we have a crooked jail and prison guard trifecta and a Border Patrol agent caught up with the Gulf Cartel. Let's get to it:

In Camden, New Jersey, a Camden County jail guard was arrested last Wednesday on charges he used a law enforcement secure database to unlawfully get information about a drug investigation. Jamall Danford, 39, is charged with second degree official misconduct and was jailed on $75,000 bail.

In Hebronville, Texas, a Border Patrol agent was arrested last Thursday on drug possession charges that have now morphed into murder charges. Agent Joel Luna was arrested after a raid on a relative's house turned up drugs, guns, and $90,000 in cash. Investigators say he took bribes from the Gulf Cartel to wave through vehicles carrying drugs. He now also faces capital murder and organized crime charges after being linked to the mutilation murder of Jose Francisco Palacios Paz, whose decapitated body was found floating in Laguna Madre Bay in March.

In Live Oak, Florida, a state prison guard was arrested last Thursday on charges she smuggled drugs into the Suwannee Correctional Institution. Guard Alice Edwards faces felony counts of introducing contraband into a state correctional institution and unlawful compensation by a public official.

In Ashville, Alabama, a state prison guard was arrested Tuesday for allegedly trying to bring drugs into the St. Clair Correctional Facility. Guard Stacy Bernard Brown is charged with promoting prison contraband, possession of marijuana, and possession of a controlled substance. He was arrested at work and taken from the prison to the St. Clair County Jail.

Medical Marijuana Update

The Senate approves a bill to ease medical marijuana access for vets, medical marijuana sales begin in Illinois, New Jersey's governor signs a medical marijuana school access bill, and more.

National

On Tuesday, the Senate approved a bill allowing veterans access to medical marijuana. The Senate Tuesday passed the FY2016 Military Construction and Veterans Affairs Appropriations Bill, which includes language that will allow vets to access medical marijuana in states where it is legal. The Veterans Administration had barred VA doctors from issuing medical marijuana recommendations to vets, but this bill will block the VA from spending money to punish vets who use medical marijuana and allow VA doctors to recommend it where it is legal. The language was first approved as an amendment in May; that amendment must now be approved by the House.

Also on Tuesday, calls to fire the DEA head for calling medical marijuana "a joke" grew louder. Led by Tom Angell at Marijuana Majority, medical marijuana supporters are calling on President Obama to fire DEA Administrator Chuck Rosenberg in the wake of his recent comments calling medical marijuana "a joke." "My mom is a legal patient in Rhode Island, and she uses medical marijuana to deal with the severe pain she experiences from multiple sclerosis," said Angell. "Medical cannabis is no joke to my family or the millions of other American families who have seen its real benefits." Angell has organized a Change.org petition that anyone can sign.

California

On Tuesday, the Newport Beach city council approved a ban on medical marijuana activities in the city. The unanimous vote was on a first reading of the ordinance, which would ban cultivation, as well as dispensaries and delivery services.

Illinois

On Monday, medical marijuana retail sales began in the state. The state's first dispensaries opened for business today after state regulators last week gave the go-ahead to producers to start shipping product to them. Up to eight dispensaries were expected to be open today, including several in the Chicago area. But some patients were turned away because their customer registrations with individual dispensaries had not yet been processed.

Minnesota

On Tuesday, pain patients called for access to medical marijuana. Pain patients pleaded with Health Commissioner Ed Ehlinger to override a panel of health experts who rejected allowing medical marijuana for chronic pain and allow them to use it. For more than three hours, the commissioner heard from a cavalcade of people who said they wake in pain, spend their days in pain, and spend sleepless nights because of pain. "All of this has been very helpful. It's not going to be an easy task weighing the data, weighing the input, weighing the pros and cons, weighing the risks and benefits," he said. "But that's the job I signed up for. I take it very seriously, both as a physician, as health commissioner and as a person who lives in this state." He has until the end of December to make a decision.

Michigan

Last Thursday, fired medical marijuana patients learned they can get unemployment benefits. The state Supreme Court has refused to hear an appeal from the Unemployment Insurance Agency in a case involving people who won unemployment benefits after being fired for medical marijuana use. That means that people who are registered patients who got fired after failing drug tests for marijuana will continue to be eligible for unemployment benefits.

New Hampshire

Last Wednesday, a lung cancer patient sued to get a medical marijuana card. Linda Horan, who suffers from late stage lung cancer, has filed a lawsuit against the state health commissioner in a bid to get a medical marijuana card before dispensaries open next year. The state passed a medical marijuana law two years ago, but won't issue patient ID cards until dispensaries are authorized to start selling medical marijuana next year. Horan wants her card issued now so she can obtain medical marijuana in Maine, which will serve patients from other states.

New Jersey

On Monday, the governor signed a medical marijuana school access billl. Gov. Chris Christie (R), a GOP presidential contender, signed into law Assembly Bill 4587, which requires schools providing services for the developmentally disabled to adopt policies that allow for the administration of medical marijuana to qualified patients.

New York

On Tuesday, medical marijuana patients demanded the governor sign an emergency access bill. Patients, families, and advocates rallied outside Governor Andrew Cuomo's (D) Manhattan office to urge him to sign a bill that would expedite access to medical marijuana for critically ill patients. In June, with overwhelming bipartisan support, both houses of the legislature passed A.7060 (Gottfried) / S.5086 (Griffo), directing the state to establish a program to help critically ill patients obtain emergency access to medical marijuana as soon as possible. The bill was delivered to Governor on October 30th. He has until tomorrow to sign or veto the bill; if he does neither, it will become law.

On Wednesday, Cuomo signed the bill.

South Dakota

On Monday, medical marijuana petitioners handed in signatures. Petitioners with New Approach South Dakota turned in some 16,000 raw signatures Monday, the deadline for initiatives hoping to qualify for the 2016 general election. They need 13,871 valid signatures to qualify, so there is very little room for invalidated signatures if the effort is to make it.

[For extensive information about the medical marijuana debate, presented in a neutral format, visit MedicalMarijuana.ProCon.org.]

Chronicle AM: DC MJ Arrests Plummet, Senate Passes Veterans MedMj, More (11/11/15)

Decriminalization spreads in South Florida, DC pot arrests hit historic lows, the Senate passes a spending bill that should ease vets' access to medical marijuana, there are calls for the DEA chief's head after he said medical marijuana was "a joke," and more.

Pot arrests are now almost nonexistent in the nation's capital. (wikimedia.org)
Marijuana Policy

Florida's Broward County Adopts Decriminalization Ordinance. County commissioners Tuesday approved an ordinance allowing police to issue $150 citations to people caught with 20 grams or less of marijuana. Violators would also have to complete an assessment/treatment program. The move puts the county, Florida's second most populous, in line with similar moves in Miami-Dade County and Key West.

DC Marijuana Arrests Plummet After Decriminalization, Legalization. Pot arrests are at historic lows in the nation's capital after city officials decriminalized and voters then legalized marijuana possession. Possession arrests peaked at 2,346 in 2011 before declining to 895 in 2014 (only seven of them after the city's decriminalization ordinance took effect in July 2014), and only seven so far for all of this year.

Medical Marijuana

US Senate Approves Bill Allowing Veterans Access to Medical Marijuana. The Senate Tuesday passed the FY2016 Military Construction and Veterans Affairs Appropriations Bill, which includes language that will allow vets to access medical marijuana in states where it is legal. The Veterans Administration had barred VA doctors from issuing medical marijuana recommendations to vets, but this bill will block the VA from spending money to punish vets who use medical marijuana and allow VA doctors to recommend it where it is legal. The language was first approved as an amendment in May; that amendment must now be approved by the House.

Calls for DEA Chief's Head After He Said Medical Marijuana Was "A Joke." Led by Tom Angell at Marijuana Majority, medical marijuana supporters are calling on President Obama to fire DEA Administrator Chuck Rosenberg in the wake of his recent comments calling medical marijuana "a joke." "My mom is a legal patient in Rhode Island, and she uses medical marijuana to deal with the severe pain she experiences from multiple sclerosis," said Angell. "Medical cannabis is no joke to my family or the millions of other American families who have seen its real benefits." Angell has organized a Change.org petition that anyone can sign.

Minnesota Pain Patients Call for Access to Medical Marijuana. Pain patients pleaded Tuesday with Health Commissioner Ed Ehlinger to override a panel of health experts who rejected allowing medical marijuana for chronic pain and allow them to use it. For more than three hours, the commissioner heard from a cavalcade of people who said they wake in pain, spend their days in pain, and spend sleepless nights because of pain. "All of this has been very helpful. It's not going to be an easy task weighing the data, weighing the input, weighing the pros and cons, weighing the risks and benefits," he said. "But that's the job I signed up for. I take it very seriously, both as a physician, as health commissioner and as a person who lives in this state." He has until the end of December to make a decision.

International

Mexican Senator Files Bill to Allow Import of Marijuana Medicines. Sen. Cristina Diaz Salazar (PRI) has filed a bill that would allow patients import marijuana and cannabis derivatives for medical purposes. She said the bill would codify a recent court ruling that granted an 8-year-old girl's parents permission to import cannabis oil to treat her epilepsy.

Chronicle AM: AZ & MA Legalization Inits Progress, SD MedMj Init Turns in Signatures, More (11/10/15)

Initiatives aimed at next year are advancing, New Jersey's governor signs a medical marijuana access bill, Mexico's marijuana debate is about to heat up, and more.

Marijuana Policy

Arizona Legalization Initiative Has 100,000 Signatures. The Marijuana Policy Project-backed Campaign to Legalize Marijuana Like Alcohol in Arizona said Monday it had collected 100,000 signatures for its legalization initiative. The campaign needs 150,000 valid voter signatures by July to qualify for the November ballot; it says it is aiming for 230,000 raw signatures.

ReformCA Releases Revised Legalization Initiative. The California Coalition for Cannabis Policy Reform (ReformCA) has filed its revised initiative. The group says the revisions protect small and medium businesses, are stronger on environmental protection, remove the "snitch clause," and include a means for people with non-violent drug offenses to work in the industry. The ReformCA initiative is one of at least ten seeking to legalize weed in California next year. Click on the link to see the revised initiative.

Another California Legalization Initiative is Cleared for Circulation. Secretary of State Alex Padilla Monday cleared the California Cannabis Legalization Act of 2016 for signature gathering. The proponent is Arcata-based Sam Clauder III, CEO of the California Cannabis Unity Campaign 2016. The campaign has 180 days to gather 365,000 valid voter signatures to qualify for the November ballot.

Massachusetts Legalization Initiative Has 100,000 Signatures. The Marijuana Policy Project-backed Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol said Monday it had gathered more than 100,000 signatures for its legalization initiative. The campaign only needs 64,750 valid voter signatures to qualify for the November ballot. Signatures must be turned in by the end of this month. Another reform group, Bay State Repeal, is also gathering signatures for a competing legalization initiative.

Medical Marijuana

New Jersey Governor Signs Medical Marijuana School Access Bill. Gov. Chris Christie (R), a GOP presidential contender, Monday signed into law Assembly Bill 4587, which requires schools providing services for the developmentally disabled to adopt policies that allow for the administration of medical marijuana to qualified patients.

New York Medical Marijuana Patients Demand Governor Sign Emergency Access Bill. Patients, families, and advocates rallied outside Governor Andrew Cuomo's (D) Manhattan office to urge him to sign a bill that would expedite access to medical marijuana for critically ill patients. In June, with overwhelming bipartisan support, both houses of the legislature passed A.7060 (Gottfried) / S.5086 (Griffo), directing the state to establish a program to help critically ill patients obtain emergency access to medical marijuana as soon as possible. The bill was delivered to Governor on October 30th. He has until tomorrow to sign or veto the bill; if he does neither, it will become law.

South Dakota Medical Marijuana Petitioners Hand in Signatures. Petitioners with New Approach South Dakota turned in some 16,000 raw signatures Monday, the deadline for initiatives hoping to qualify for the 2016 general election. They need 13,871 valid signatures to qualify, so there is very little room for invalidated signatures if the effort is to make it to the ballot.

Sentencing

Ohio Supreme Court to Take Up Cocaine Sentencing Weights. The state's high court is to decide whether prosecutors must test seized cocaine for purity and use the results to determine cocaine weight for sentencing purposes. Under current law, a pound of 40% pure cocaine is considered a pound of cocaine; if the high court upholds an appellate court decision, that same batch of cocaine would be only 6.4 ounces. "Ninety-nine grams of sugar mixed with one gram of cocaine is not 100 grams of cocaine," said Andrew Mayle, who represented defendant Rafael Gonzales during his trial and is now representing him on the appeal. "The more cocaine, the higher the penalty. It's not the more sugar or baking soda the higher the penalty."

International

New Canada Poll Has Support for Marijuana Legalization at 59%. A new Forum Research poll has support for legalization at 59%, up six points from a similar poll in August. The election of pro-legalization Liberal Justin Trudeau as prime minister helped, the pollster said. "Now that marijuana legalization is a likelihood rather than a vague promise, Canadians are considering the issue more closely than in the past," Forum president Lorne Bozinoff said in a press release. "They are just as much in favor of legalization as they were before the election, if not more, but they want to see it strictly licensed and controlled, not grown in basements and sold in corner stores."

Mexico President Promises Marijuana Legalization Debate. In the wake of last week's Supreme Court decision affirming the human right of Mexicans to use marijuana, President Enrique Pena Nieto has promised a major national debate on the topic. He also said that he personally opposed legalization, but that he could be persuaded to change his mind.

Mexico Poll Finds Two-Thirds Oppose Marijuana Legalization. A poll from El Universal finds that two-thirds (66%) of Mexican oppose marijuana legalization, with 60% also opposing last week's Supreme Court ruling saying marijuana use is a human right. But 63% supported President Pena Nieto's call for a national debate on the topic.

(This article was prepared by StoptheDrugWar.org's lobbying arm, the Drug Reform Coordination Network, which also pays the cost of maintaining this web site. DRCNet Foundation takes no positions on candidates for public office, in compliance with section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code, and does not pay for reporting that could be interpreted or misinterpreted as doing so.)

Chronicle AM: Dem Candidates on MJ Policy, IL MedMJ Sales Begin, Ecstasy Q&A, More (11/9/15)

Democratic presidential contenders stake out positions on marijuana, a South Dakota Indian tribe suspends its pot operations, Illinois medical marijuana sales began today, Maine's Tea Party governor threatens to call out the National Guard to fight heroin, and more.

ecstasy tablets, courtesy of a German police Dark Web bust
Marijuana Policy

Hillary Clinton Calls for Rescheduling Marijuana. In a campaign speech in South Carolina Saturday, the Democratic presidential contender called for marijuana to be moved from Schedule I to Schedule II, which would allow for federally-sponsored research on its effects. "What I do want is for us to support research into medical marijuana because a lot more states have passed medical marijuana than have legalized marijuana," she said in Orangeburg, "so we have got two different experiences or even experiments going on right now."

Bernie Sanders Criticizes Clinton's Half-Step on Marijuana. The Vermont independent senator and Democratic presidential contender responded to Clinton's call for rescheduling, noting that he has filed a bill to end federal marijuana prohibition: "I am glad to see Secretary Clinton is beginning to address an issue that my legislation addressed," he said, "but her approach ignored the major issue. Secretary Clinton would classify marijuana in the same category as cocaine and continue to make marijuana a federally regulated substance. If we are serious about criminal justice reform and preventing many thousands of lives from being impacted because of criminal convictions for marijuana possession, we must remove marijuana from the federal Controlled Substances Act and allow states the right to go forward, if they choose, to legalize marijuana without federal legal impediments," Sanders added.

South Dakota Tribe Cuts Down Plants, Suspends Marijuana Resort Plans. The Flandreau Santee Sioux Tribe said Saturday it has cut down its marijuana plants and is temporarily suspending its plan to open a pot resort. A lawyer for the tribe said leaders seek clarification from the federal government. The tribe is also running into harsh opposition from state elected and law enforcement officials, who are threatening to arrest people leaving the reservation under the state's unique "internal possession" marijuana law, which allows people to be convicted of having marijuana metabolites in their bodies.

New Jersey Senate to Hold Hearing on Legalization Next Week. Senate Judiciary Chairman Nicholas Scutari (D) today announced that he will hold a hearing of the committee next week on the issue of legalizing marijuana in New Jersey. The committee will hear from invited guests, including health professionals, law enforcement, clergy, civil rights organizations and policy experts. "There is no question that we need to update our archaic drug laws in this country and the majority of people support regulating, taxing and legalizing marijuana," said Senator Scutari. "This is a fact-finding hearing that we hope will help to continue to inform the committee and the Legislature as we take up this very important issue. This is a first step in the process of finally reversing our punitive marijuana laws that have caused harm to our residents and our communities." The hearing is set for next Monday at 1:00pm at the state house.

Medical Marijuana

Illinois Medical Marijuana Sales Begin Today. The state's first dispensaries opened for business today after state regulators last week gave the go-ahead to producers to start shipping product to them. Up to eight dispensaries were expected to be open today, including several in the Chicago area. But some patients were turned away because their customer registrations with individual dispensaries had not yet been processed.

Heroin and Prescription Opiates

Maine Governor Threatens to Call in National Guard to Fight Heroin. In his ongoing feud with the legislature over his demand for more anti-drug agents, Gov. Paul LePage (R) has now threatened to deploy the National Guard to fight heroin in the state. LePage said there is a "dire need" for a tougher response, and "You either work with me and give me some agents, or I will call the Guard up." Legislators last session approved funding for six additional drug agents, two judges and two drugs prosecutors, but that isn't enough for LePage.

New Psychoactive Substances

Bill to Further Criminalize New Psychoactive Substances Heads for House Floor. A bill that attempts to criminalize a whole list of new psychoactive substances has passed out of committee and now awaits a House floor vote. The measure is HR 3537, sponsored by Rep. Charles Dent (R-PA).

Harm Reduction

DPA and EMA Provide Q&A on MDMA. The Drug Policy Alliance and the Electronic Music Alliance have teamed up to provide a brief, harm reduction-related Q&A on ecstasy. "In order to minimize risk and focus on harm reduction, EMA and DPA suggest providing education to drug users, creating safe environments that include cool down spaces, and access to water. Lastly, they suggest testing your drugs so you know what you are ingesting." There's more at the link.

International

Georgia High Court Rules That Imprisonment for Marijuana Is Unconstitutional. Late last month, Georgia's Constitutional Court declared that imprisoning people for possessing marijuana for personal use is cruel and inhuman punishment. The ruling came in the case of a man arrested for possession of 70 grams (less than three ounces), and the court noted that the law makes no distinction between possession for personal use and possession for sale. The court suggested that the legislature address the issue.

(This article was prepared by StoptheDrugWar.org's lobbying arm, the Drug Reform Coordination Network, which also pays the cost of maintaining this web site. DRCNet Foundation takes no positions on candidates for public office, in compliance with section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code, and does not pay for reporting that could be interpreted or misinterpreted as doing so.)

Chronicle AM: State Dept OK With Legalization Elsewhere, IL MedMj Sales Monday, More (11/06/15)

It's all marijuana-related news today, with medical marijuana sales starting Monday in Illinois, the State Department saying it can live with pot legalization in other countries, the Houston DA implementing a marijuana diversion program, and more.

medical marijuana -- coming next week to Illinois (wikimedia.org)
Marijuana Policy

Bernie Sanders' Measure to End Federal Marijuana Prohibition Has Bill Number Now. The Ending Federal Marijuana Prohibition Act, which the Democratic presidential contender filed Wednesday, now has a Senate bill number. It is S. 2237.

Wyoming Legislators Want to Make Possession of a Pound of Edibles a Felony. The Joint Judiciary Committee will sponsor a bill that would make possession of more than a pound of marijuana edibles a felony. The bill originally aimed to make possession of three ounces a felony (as is the law with marijuana), but lawmakers were persuaded to up the limit to a pound. The bill comes after at least two judges have thrown out cases of edibles possession because they read state law as only addressing felony pot possession in plant form.

Houston DA Offers Diversion Instead of Arrest for Small-Time Marijuana Offenders. Harris County District Attorney Devon Anderson said Thursday that as of January 1, people caught with less than two ounces of marijuana will be offered a diversion program instead of being arrested and jailed. The program could include classes or community service. In the past year, police have been arresting and booking people, then offering them diversion, but now, they will forego the arrest and booking steps.

Medical Marijuana

Illinois Medical Marijuana Sales to Start Monday. Eight dispensaries have been licensed and will be able to sell medical marijuana to registered patients beginning Monday, state medical marijuana program director Joseph Wright said Friday. Some 3,000 Illinoisans have already registered for the program.

New Hampshire Lung Cancer Patient Sues to Get Medical Marijuana Card. Linda Horan, who suffers from late stage lung cancer, has filed a lawsuit against the state health commissioner in a bid to get a medical marijuana card before dispensaries open next year. The state passed a medical marijuana law two years ago, but won't issue patient ID cards until dispensaries are authorized to start selling medical marijuana next year. Horan wants her card issued now so she can obtain medical marijuana in Maine, which will serve patients from other states.

Michigan Medical Marijuana Patients Who Have Been Fired Can Get Unemployment. The state Supreme Court has refused to hear an appeal from the Unemployment Insurance Agency in a case involving people who won unemployment benefits after being fired for medical marijuana use. That means that people who are registered patients who got fired after failing drug tests for marijuana will continue to be eligible for unemployment benefits.

International

US State Department Says Other Countries Can Legalize Marijuana If They Want To. My, how times have changed! Responding to a press question about moves toward marijuana legalization in Canada and Mexico, a State Department spokesman said Thursday they were free to do so. "It's up to the people of each nation to decide policies," spokesman John Kirby said. "And in this case, it's up to the people of Mexico to decide which drug policies are most appropriate for their country within the framework of international law." Kirby added that the US is "firmly committed to the three UN drug conventions," but added that "the conventions allow for a degree of flexibility on how member-states implement their obligations, particularly with respect to drug use, and the conventions anticipate variations in national legal frameworks." The openness to marijuana reform is a marked contrast to the US's historical opposition to such moves, but is consistent with the policy enunciated last year by the head of the department's Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs, William Brownfield.

(This article was prepared by StoptheDrugWar.org's lobbying arm, the Drug Reform Coordination Network, which also pays the cost of maintaining this web site. DRCNet Foundation takes no positions on candidates for public office, in compliance with section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code, and does not pay for reporting that could be interpreted or misinterpreted as doing so.)

Chronicle AM: Sanders End MJ Prohibition Bill, MX Supreme Court Protects MJ Use & Growing, More (11/5/15)

Bernie Sanders makes Senate history with the first bill in that chamber to end federal marijuana prohibition, the DEA head badmouths medical marijuana, the Mexican Supreme Court issues a historic ruling on the human right to use and grow marijuana, and more.

Marijuana Policy

Bernie Sanders Files Bill to End Federal Marijuana Prohibition. Vermont independent senator and Democratic presidential contender Bernie Sanders Wednesday filed legislation in the Senate that would end federal marijuana prohibition by removing -- not rescheduling -- marijuana from the list of federally controlled substances. It is the first bill ever introduced in the Senate to end the federal war on marijuana. The bill, the Ending Federal Prohibition Act of 2015, has not yet been assigned a bill number, but the text is available here. Click on the title link to read our feature story.

Nebraska's Omaha Tribe Voices Support for Legal Marijuana Operations. Members of the Omaha tribe voting in a referendum Tuesday supported moving toward legal marijuana operations on the reservation. Some 78% said they supported medical marijuana, 67% said they supported industrial hemp, and 59% said they supported recreational use. The Omaha tribal council will now vote on all three questions, using the referendum as guidance.

Medical Marijuana

DEA Head Calls Medical Marijuana "A Joke." DEA Administrator Chuck Rosenberg Wednesday rejected smoking marijuana as a medicine. It's "a joke," he said. "What really bothers me is the notion that marijuana is also medicinal -- because it's not," Rosenberg said in a briefing to reporters. "We can have an intellectually honest debate about whether we should legalize something that is bad and dangerous, but don't call it medicine -- that is a joke."

Asset Forfeiture

Wyoming Legislative Committee Waters Down Reform Effort. The Joint Judiciary Committee Wednesday rejected a bill that would have ended civil asset forfeiture in favor of another bill that would require a judge to decide within 30 days whether a seizure was appropriate and to hold a hearing within 120 days. Earlier this year, the legislature passed a bill ending civil asset forfeiture, only to see it vetoed by Gov. Matt Mead (R).

Drug Testing

Wisconsin to Start Drug Testing Welfare Recipients Monday. Drug testing for some welfare recipients begins next week after Gov. Scott Walker (R) signed off on a rule from the Department of Children and Families requiring able-bodied adults to be screened for drug use before seeking benefits. "Employers across the state frequently tell me they have good-paying jobs available in high-demand fields, but need their workers to be drug-free," Walker said in a statement. "These important entitlement reforms will help more people find family-supporting jobs, moving them from government dependence to true independence."

International

Mexican Supreme Court Rules People Have the Right to Grow and Use Marijuana. In a decision that could open the door to pot legalization south of the border, the Mexican Supreme Court ruled Wednesday that individuals have the right to use and grow the plant. The decision does not undo Mexico's marijuana laws, but does open the door for a wave of legal actions that could end in their being rewritten.

(This article was prepared by StoptheDrugWar.org's lobbying arm, the Drug Reform Coordination Network, which also pays the cost of maintaining this web site. DRCNet Foundation takes no positions on candidates for public office, in compliance with section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code, and does not pay for reporting that could be interpreted or misinterpreted as doing so.)

Bernie Sanders Files Bill to End Federal Marijuana Prohibition [FEATURE]

Vermont independent senator and Democratic presidential contender Bernie Sanders Wednesday filed legislation in the Senate that would end federal marijuana prohibition by removing -- not rescheduling -- marijuana from the list of federally controlled substances. It is the first bill ever introduced in the Senate to end the federal war on marijuana.

Bernie Sanders (wikipedia.org)
The bill, the Ending Federal Marijuana Prohibition Act of 2015, has not yet been assigned a bill number, but the text is available here.

A similar bill was introduced in the House by Reps. Barney Frank (D-MA) and Ron Paul (R-TX) in 2011, but it never went anywhere.

Two years later, Rep. Jared Polis (D-CO) provided a model for the Sanders bill with a bill he proposed in 2013, and reintroduced this year as the Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol Act (HR 1013), although there are slight differences. The Polis bill would shift authority over marijuana from the DEA to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, while the Sanders bill would not, and the Polis bill would amend federal alcohol laws to include provisions for shipping marijuana, while the Sanders bill would not.

"Just as alcohol prohibition failed in the 1920s, it's clear marijuana prohibition is failing today," Polis said in a statement. "For decades, the federal ban on marijuana has wasted tax dollars, impeded our criminal justice system, lined the pockets of drug cartels, and trampled on states’ ability to set their own public health laws. Today's introduction of the Ending Federal Marijuana Prohibition Act in the Senate is a huge step forward in the movement to enact the commonsense drug laws needed to grow our economy and restore fairness to our justice system."

Sanders filed the bill one week after he first proposed reclassifying marijuana during a campaign speech at George Mason University.

"In the United States we have 2.2 million people in jail today, more than any other country. And we're spending about $80 billion a year to lock people up. We need major changes in our criminal justice system -- including changes in drug laws," Sanders said. "Too many Americans have seen their lives destroyed because they have criminal records as a result of marijuana use. That's wrong. That has got to change."

No other presidential contender, Democratic or Republican, has staked out a position as advanced on marijuana legalization as Sanders, although Congress is proving increasingly receptive to marijuana reform measures.

Several spending amendments aimed at blocking federal pursuit of state-legal marijuana operations have already passed the House and the Senate Appropriations Committee this year, and Senate Republicans have included spending amendments in their recent "minibus" spending package, including measures to bar the DEA from interfering with state medical marijuana laws, bar the Treasury Department from stopping banks from providing services to marijuana business, and to require the Veterans Administration to allow vets to use medical marijuana.

Also, earlier this year, Sens. Corey Booker (D-NJ), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), and Rand Paul (R-KY) introduced the CARERS Act (S. 683), which would legalize the medicinal use of marijuana.

The increasing acceptance of marijuana reforms in Congress comes as the American public also increasingly accepts the idea. Public opinion polls now consistently show majority support for pot legalization, including a Gallup poll last month that had 58% for legalization.

Marijuana reformers are liking what they are hearing from the Sanders camp.

"The science is clear that marijuana is less harmful than alcohol, and that should be reflected in our nation's marijuana policy," said Mason Tvert, communications director for the Marijuana Policy Project. "Sen. Sanders is simply proposing that we treat marijuana similarly to how we treat alcohol at the federal level, leaving most of the details to the states. It is a commonsense proposal that is long overdue in the Senate."

"Clearly Bernie Sanders has looked at the polls showing voter support for marijuana legalization," said Michael Collins, deputy director of national affairs for the Drug Policy Action, the political arm of the Drug Policy Alliance. "Marijuana reform was already moving forward in Congress but we expect this bill to give reform efforts a big boost."

Will Congress act to end federal pot prohibition? (wikimedia.org)
"This is the first time a bill to end federal marijuana prohibition has been introduced in the US Senate," said Tom Angell, chairman of Marijuana Majority. "A growing majority of Americans want states to be able to enact their own marijuana laws without harassment from the DEA, and lawmakers should listen. The introduction of this bill proves that the defeat of the Ohio marijuana monopoly measure that wasn't widely supported in our movement isn’t doing anything to slow down our national momentum."

"Many legislators and citizens are still hesitant to move forward with marijuana legalization initiatives in their home states because of the federal ban, which may contradict state law, making both laws difficult to follow or enforce, and making banking transactions all but impossible." said Maj. Neill Franklin (Ret.), executive director for Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP), a criminal justice group working to legalize marijuana.

Four states -- Alaska, Colorado, Oregon, and Washington -- and the District of Columbia have already legalized marijuana, with another handful expected to do so next year. And 23 states already have medical marijuana laws.

"As more states legalize marijuana for medical or non-medical use the pressure to change federal law will continue to grow," Bill Piper, director of national affairs at Drug Policy Action said. "There is a clear bipartisan majority in Congress for letting states set their own marijuana policies."

(This article was prepared by StoptheDrugWar.org's lobbying arm, the Drug Reform Coordination Network, which also pays the cost of maintaining this web site. DRCNet Foundation takes no positions on candidates for public office, in compliance with section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code, and does not pay for reporting that could be interpreted or misinterpreted as doing so.)

This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

Another week, another sticky-fingered cop, another cop protecting dealers, and another jailer smuggling dope. Let's get to it:

In Johnstown, Pennsylvania, a former drug task force investigator was arrested last Tuesday on charges he tipped off a subject of interest in a heroin investigation about a looming investigation. Justin Arcurio had been fired in July after prosecutors learned he'd told a heroin trafficker that an investigation was forthcoming, and he is now charged with hindering apprehension or prosecution. He's out on $10,000 bond pending a December court date.

In Covington, Georgia, a Covington police officer was arrested last Wednesday on charges he stole a motorcycle that had been seized in a 2011 drug bust. Alex Laudermilk, who has now been fired, went down after an anonymous tipster reported that he was in possession of the bike, which had been seized by the DeKalb County Police Department. Laudermilk was working for that agency at the time the bike was seized.

In Lafayette, Louisiana, a Lafayette sheriff's deputy was arrested last Thursday after investigators found he was smuggling drugs into the jail. Deputy Tyler Bonnet is charged with malfeasance in office, distribution of Schedule I narcotics, and taking contraband to or from a prison. At last report, he was in jail at his place of employment, trying to make a $25,000 bond.

Medical Marijuana Update

More Indian tribes move toward okaying medical marijuana, a North Dakota initiative petition gets its language okayed, and more.

California

Last Wednesday, Los Angeles decided to stop giving tax permits to unlicensed dispensaries. The city council voted to stop giving tax certificates for new medical marijuana dispensaries. In 2013, the city approved Measure D, which banned most dispensaries, but that hasn't stopped them from opening. The city had been issuing tax certificates to them, but the council agreed that it was "insincere" to collect taxes from shops the city was working to shut down. Click on the link for much more detail.

On Tuesday, the Huntington Beach city council voted to keep its ban on dispensaries. The move came as the council denied appeals by four dispensaries challenging the city's eight-year-old ban on the operations. The dispensaries had operated without business permits, and the city had recently obtained temporary injunctions to shut them down.

Nevada

Last Thursday, a Nevada tribe decided to join the medical marijuana industry. The Fort McDermitt Paiute and Shoshone Tribe is planning to open a medical marijuana grow facility for economic development reasons. "Jobs to bring our people out of poverty, to create the jobs that we can better our community," said tribal president Tildon Smart. "And the profits would be used for helping out with programs." The tribe said it plans to start growing next spring.

New York

On Tuesday, the Seneca Nation approved a medical marijuana measure. Tribal members approved a measure clearing the way for the creation of a legal and regulatory framework for medical marijuana operations on the reservation. The vote was 448-364. "A decision on our Nation's path of action on medical cannabis is far from made, but now, having heard from the Seneca people, our discussions and due diligence can begin in earnest," said tribal President Maurice John. "The first step from here is establishing thoughtful regulation for how the Seneca Nation could potentially move forward."

North Dakota

On Monday, medical marijuana initiative petition language was approved. The second time was the charm. Secretary of State Al Jaeger Monday approved petition language for a medical marijuana initiative. He had initially rejected the proposal because of language flaws. The measure would create a system of state-licensed dispensaries and would allow patients to possess up to three ounces. Patients more than 40 miles from a dispensary could grow their own.

[For extensive information about the medical marijuana debate, presented in a neutral format, visit MedicalMarijuana.ProCon.org.]

Chronicle AM: OH Marijuana Init Shot Down, DEA Releases National Drug Threat Assessment, More (11/4/15)

Ohio's "monopoly" legalization iniitiative got trounced, two Michigan towns vote to legalize it, the Seneca Nation marches toward medical marijuana, the DEA releases its annual threat assessment, and more.

Voters told ResponsibleOhio to take a hike.
Marijuana Policy

Colorado Voters Approve Spending Marijuana Taxes. Voters overwhelmingly approved a ballot measure that gives legislators permission to spend $66.1 million in pot tax revenues. This marks the third time in four years Colorado voters have approved spending marijuana taxes, and the 69% victory came as little surprise.

Georgia Poll Has Voters Evenly Split on Legalization. A new 11Alive/Survey USA poll has Georgia split down the middle on marijuana legalization, with 45% for and 46% against. A group called "Let Us Vote Georgia" says it will try to put the issue on the ballot for next year's election.

Ohio "Monopoly" Initiative Goes Down in Flames. The ResponsibleOhio legalization initiative was roundly defeated Tuesday, garnering only 35% of the vote. In addition to opposition from the usual suspects, the measure also aroused the ire of many Ohio legalization activists because of its provisions limiting commercial marijuana grows to only ten cultivation sites, all of them owned by the the campaign's funders.

Two Michigan Towns Vote to Legalize It. Voters in the towns of Keego Harbor in Oakland County and Portage in Kalamazoo County approved local ordinances allowing the "usage, possession, and transfer" of up to an ounce of marijuana by people 21 and over. The Keego Harbor measure passed with 55% of the vote; no totals are yet available for Portage.

Medical Marijuana

Seneca Nation Approves Medical Marijuana Measure. Tribal members approved a measure clearing the way for the creation of a legal and regulatory framework for medical marijuana operations on the reservation. The vote was 448-364. "A decision on our Nation's path of action on medical cannabis is far from made, but now, having heard from the Seneca people, our discussions and due diligence can begin in earnest," said tribal President Maurice John. "The first step from here is establishing thoughtful regulation for how the Seneca Nation could potentially move forward."

North Dakota Medical Marijuana Initiative Language Approved. The second time was the charm. Secretary of State Al Jaeger Monday approved petition language for a medical marijuana initiative. He had initially rejected the proposal because of language flaws. The measure would create a system of state-licensed dispensaries and would allow patients to possess up to three ounces. Patients more than 40 miles from a dispensary could grow their own.

Law Enforcement

DEA Releases 2015 National Drug Threat Assessment. The assessment emphasized the toll from prescription drug and heroin overdoses and identified Mexican drug trafficking organization as "the biggest criminal threat to the United States," but also warned of that "affiliated and violent gangs are increasingly a threat to the safety and security of our communities." Access the report by clicking on the title link.

International

Palestinian Authority Approves Tough New Drug Laws. President Mahmoud Abbas today signed into law legislation that creates tough new penalties, including up to life in prison, for drug dealing and manufacturing. It also creates a new anti-drug bureaucracy, a special action office for drug abuse prevention. Palestinian officials blame the Israelis for the West Bank drug problem.

Ohio Marijuana Legalization-Oligopoly Initiative Defeated

The controversial Ohio marijuana legalization initiative has gone down to defeat, with voters rejecting it by a margin of 66% to 34%, according to early voting results. Local media outlets called the election minutes after vote counting began at 9:00pm. [Ed: The final split was 64% to 36%.]

The initiative was sponsored by ResponsibleOhio, which gathered up 10 sets of investors willing to pony up $2 million each to get one of the 10 commercial marijuana cultivation sites envisioned in the initiative. Passage of the initiative would have locked this legal marijuana cultivation "monopoly" into the state constitution.

ResponsibleOhio's multi-million dollar advertising campaign was no match for an opposition that included not only all the usual suspects -- law enforcement, state political figures, business groups -- but also some of the state's marijuana legalization activist community. Some Buckeye activists were infuriated by what they saw as a bunch of suits coming in to take over their movement and render them irrelevant. But others [Ed: more thoughtfully] felt the funder-purchased oligopoly was inappropriate.

Both marijuana movement people and the state's political establishment hammered hard on the initiative's "monopoly" provision, with the Republican-dominated legislature even placing its own initiative, Issue 2, on the ballot. Issue 2 would make constitutional monopolies like ResponsibleOhio's initiative unconstitutional. That set up a potential legal confrontation in the event that both initiatives passed, but that question is now moot. (Issue 2 was passing at press time.)

Initiative proponents argued that even though commercial cultivation opportunities were strictly circumscribed, there would be plenty of opportunities for others to get into the pot business in the state, too. Retail outlets and pot processing facilities would have been licensed, providing numerous opportunities for business startups.

The initiative also would have protected medical marijuana patients, and was supported by the Ohio Rights Group, a medical marijuana advocacy group

Marijuana reform activists who opposed the ResponsibleOhio initiative said they could do better. Now they will have the chance. But so far no grassroots legalization or even medical marijuana initiative has gotten major funding, and volunteer-driven initiatives rarely if ever make the ballot. The legislature has also not been interested to date. Ohio still has a road ahead of it to get to reform.

Chronicle AM: OH Votes on Legalization Today, New Big Bucks CA Init Unveiled, More (11/3/15)

It's election day in Ohio, a big money California legalization initiative rolls out, there's another national poll with a majority for marijuana legalization, Ireland takes big steps toward harm reduction, Germany gets set to deal with medical marijuana, and more.

Will Ohioans vote for Buddie and Issue 3? The polls close in a few hours. (responsibleohio.com)
Marijuana Policy

Another National Poll Has a Majority for Legalization. A new Morning Consult poll has support for marijuana legalization at 55% nationwide. That's in line with other recent polls showing a majority for freeing the weed, including Gallup (58%), CBS News (53%), and Pew (53%). Click on the link for more details and methodology.

California Initiative With Big Bucks, Key Backers Rolls Out. A legalization initiative backed by tech philanthropist Sean Parker, other deep-pocketed funders, and leading state political figures such as Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) was filed Monday. The Control, Regulate and Tax Adult Use of Marijuana Act is the latest of a half-dozen initiatives filed in the state. At this early point, it stands the best chance of making the 2016 ballot, given the financial and political clout behind it. Look for a Chronicle feature article later this week.

Ohio Votes on Legalization Today. Voters go to the polls today to vote for or against the controversial ResponsibleOhio legalization initiative, which would create a 10-grower oligopoly on commercial cultivation, owned by the backers of the initiative. Voters will also have a chance to vote on Issue 2, which is designed to negate the initiative and future monopoly or oligopoly initiatives in the future. Late polls had the legalization initiative in a dead heat. Look for a Chronicle story once we have election results.

Vermont Senate Committee to Hold Legalization Hearing Next Week. The Senate Government Operations Committee will take testimony next Tuesday on proposals to legalize marijuana. The hearing is expected to seek answers to questions about how legalization would work. The legislature will consider legalization in the coming session.

Drug Policy

Hillary Clinton Calls for Criminal Justice Reforms. In a speech last Friday, Democratic presidential contender Hillary Clinton called for a series of criminal justice reforms, including a ban on racial profiling, a ban on pre-employment questions about criminal histories, and the elimination of the remaining sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine. Bernie Sanders responded that criminal justice reform needs to include marijuana legalization, which he has endorsed.

International

Group of Studies Shows Mass Incarceration for Drugs Growing in Latin America. The Research Consortium on Drugs and the Law today released a series of new studies showing that mass imprisonment for drug offenses has increased across the region. You can read the reports here.

Ireland to Open Supervised Injection Sites, Looks Toward Drug Decriminalization. Irish drugs minister Aodhan O'Riordain said today that the government will open an injection site in Dublin next year, followed shortly by Cork, Galway, and Limerick. He also said he plans to push for the decriminalization of drug possession as part of a "radical cultural shift" in dealing with drug use.

Germany to Set Up Medical Marijuana Agency. The Ministry of Health has authored a draft bill that would allow sick Germans to use medical marijuana, with the substance to be prescribed and to be paid for by health insurers. The bill would not allow patients to grow their own. "It is our goal that in the future, more people in Germany will be able to receive cannabis as medicine than has been the case until now," said federal drugs commissioner Marlene Mortler. She said she wanted the bill pushed through the Bundestag by year's end, so the new law could go into effect next year.

(This article was prepared by StoptheDrugWar.org's lobbying arm, the Drug Reform Coordination Network, which also pays the cost of maintaining this web site. DRCNet Foundation takes no positions on candidates for public office, in compliance with section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code, and does not pay for reporting that could be interpreted or misinterpreted as doing so.)

Chronicle AM: Trump Says Let States Legalize, Mexican Villagers Go Vigilante on Crooked Cops, More (10/30/15)

A leading Republican presidential contender favors letting the states decide on pot policy, another Indian tribe wants to get in on the action, Mexican villagers turn the tables on crooked federal cops, and more.

Donald Trump says let the states decide on marijuana. (wikimedia/gage skidmore)
Donald Trump Would Let States Decide on Legalization. The Republican presidential contender said at a campaign rally Thursday that he supports letting states decide whether to legalize marijuana or not. "I really believe we should leave it up to the states," he said while taking questions at an event at the Nugget Convention Center in Sparks, Nevada.

North Carolina Indian Tribe to do Feasibility Study on Legalizing Marijuana. The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians passed a resolution Thursday calling for a feasibility study to look into "the issues and impacts associated with legalization of cannabis." The resolution was submitted by tribal members who are part of Common Sense Cannabis.

Asset Forfeiture

Ohio Asset Forfeiture Reform Bill Proposed. State Rep. Robert McColley (R-Napoleon) said Thursday he will introduce a bill to end civil asset forfeiture reform. "Essentially, what [the bill] does is ensure that in order for anybody to lose their property through a forfeiture proceeding, they must first be charged with a crime and then subsequently convicted of that crime," McColley said. "Now, under Ohio law, there is something called provisional title, which essentially means that the state can hold temporary title to the property during the course of legal proceedings if that property is subject to forfeiture. That is still in place, but in order for the final transfer of title to occur, there must be a conviction of the underlying crime that is the basis for the forfeiture."

International

Mexican Villagers Detain Eight Federal Police They Say Work With Drug Cartels. At least 200 residents of a small mining town in Guerrero state have captured and are holding eight federal police officers they say work for the Guerreros Unidos drug gang. The federal police chief said talks were underway with locals to win their release. The incident occurred in Carrizalillo, where the police had arrived on a mission to arrest a local cooperative farming commission leader. They came accompanied by local alleged drug trafficker, and when the cops tried to arrest the local leader, the locals arrested the cops. Click on the link for more sordid details.

(This article was prepared by StoptheDrugWar.org's lobbying arm, the Drug Reform Coordination Network, which also pays the cost of maintaining this web site. DRCNet Foundation takes no positions on candidates for public office, in compliance with section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code, and does not pay for reporting that could be interpreted or misinterpreted as doing so.)

Three More Drug War Deaths This Month

A SWAT team member in Ohio shot and killed an unarmed businessman, and SWAT teams in South Carolina and Mississippi killed two more people in drug enforcement on the same day this week. There is also news on some past drug war killings.

This month's drug war killings bring the Drug War Chronicle's count of people killed in US domestic drug law enforcement operations so far this year to 49. The figure only includes people who died as a direct result of the drug war.

  • In Ohio, 27-year-old Omar Ali died October 5, two weeks after he was shot and wounded by a SWAT officer during a September raid on his Akron hookah store. Police were investigating Ali for drug sales when they broke down the door to his business, then encountered him in the main room of his shop. Police said they ordered him to put his hands up, but he allegedly refused those commands and reached toward the back of his waistband. The unnamed SWAT officer then shot him. Police found no weapon in his waistband. What they did find was 2.8 grams of heroin and five doses of Suboxone hidden in his butt-crack.
  • In Florida, a Jacksonville Sheriff's Office SWAT team shot and killed an armed drug suspect during a residential drug raid Wednesday afternoon. The dead man has not yet been named. Police said they were preparing to break down the door to the home when they encountered the man armed with a hand gun. He allegedly turned to confront them, and was then shot and killed by Officer Nicholas Rodgers. The dead suspect didn't fire a shot. Police said they found cocaine and more guns when they searched the residence.
  • In Mississippi, a drug suspect was killed and a deputy wounded during a Monroe County SWAT drug raid Wednesday morning. The dead man has not yet been identified. Sheriff Cecil Cantrell explained that it all began with a traffic stop: "Basically, we did a traffic stop on a vehicle and he had quite a bit of drugs in there, ice (crystal meth)," Cantrell said. "We talked to him and asked him where he got the drugs, and he told us where he bought them. And we got a search warrant and went down to this gentleman's house. When we got there the SWAT team went down to the house. When they got to the back door, he opened the door and started shooting, wounded one of my deputies. The deputies shot back. Those were seasoned deputies who were on that SWAT team, and they had no choice but to shoot back. And that person is deceased now."

Please note that in all three cases, as in many other cases of drug war violence, the only account available is that from police.

Meanwhile, there is also news on a pair of earlier cases of drug war deaths.

  • In California, the El Centro Police and four named officers are being sued over the 2012 death of Charles Sampson during a drug investigation. A police body camera video picked up police threatening to arrest Sampson and his family members if he didn't tell them where he had hidden drugs. Police also said a drug dog had alerted on the residence, but they later revised that statement, and they didn't find any drugs in the house. Sampson became ill, apparently after ingesting methamphetamine, but when family members called 911 for an ambulance, police told the dispatcher to ignore all calls from the house because Sampson was "putting on a show." Only two hours later was Sampson taken to a hospital, and only because a police officer ignored instructions to take him to jail. The lawsuit goes to trial in May 2016.
  • And in South Carolina, prosecutors declined to file criminal charges against the police officer who shot and killed unarmed teenager Zachary Hammond during a pot bust in July. Hammond was the driver of a car parked at a fast food restaurant, and the girl in the passenger seat had just arranged a pot deal with a person who turned out to be an undercover cop. When the cops pulled up, Hammond began to attempt to drive away and was shot twice by Officer Mark Tiller. Tiller claimed self-defense, although video showed Hammond's car already passing Tiller when he opened fire. But Solicitor Chrissy Adams said Tiller would face no charges.

Chronicle AM: LEAP Endorses Ohio Initiative, Federal Drug War Prisoners Start Going Home, More (10/29/15)

LEAP endorses Ohio's Issue 3, another tribe wants in on the medical marijuana action, a West Virginia mayor calls fro drug decriminalization, backers of Bolivia's president are using coca as campaign contributions, and more.

Evo Morales' backers are contributing coca for the cause. (wikimedia.org)
Marijuana Policy

Marijuana at the GOP Debate. In Wednesday night's debate, only Ohio Gov. John Kasich had an opportunity to answer a question on marijuana legalization, and he's not for it. He said it would send the wrong message to kids and that he had spent years of his administration working "to rein in the problem of overdoses." Texas Sen. Ted Cruz mentioned marijuana, but only jokingly, offering to buy tequila "or even some famous Colorado brownies" for debate moderator Carlos Quintanilla after a heated exchange.

Law Enforcement Against Prohibition Endorses Ohio Legalization Initiative. LEAP has endorsed the ResponsibleOhio Issue 3 legalization initiative as the campaign counts down toward election day next Tuesday. "Legalization will take money away from the cartels, provide funding for public safety and health services, and reduce the violence associated with the illegal drug market. Passage of Issue Three puts us in charge, not the dealers," said retired Cincinnati Police Captain Howard Rahtz. The initiative is also endorsed by national NORML, but has split Buckeye State legalization proponents, some of who especially object to its "monopoly" on commercial grow sites. The initiative would only allow ten, on land owned by the investors who bankrolled the campaign.

Medical Marijuana

Medical Marijuana an Issue in Kentucky Governor's Race. In something of a political oddity, Republican gubernatorial candidate Matt Bevin is supporting medical marijuana, while Democratic candidate and current state attorney general Jack Conway, is opposing it. This issue has been causing fireworks on the campaign trail. The election is next Tuesday. Click on the link for some of the flavor. [Ed: Conway ran campaign ads attacking Rand Paul as "soft on drugs" when the two were competing for the state's open Senate seat in 2010. It's not surprising to see Conway take a regressive stance on medical marijuana.]

Nevada Tribe to Join Medical Marijuana Industry. The Fort McDermitt Paiute and Shoshone Tribe is planning to open a medical marijuana grow facility for economic development reasons. "Jobs to bring our people out of poverty, to create the jobs that we can better our community," said tribal president Tildon Smart. "And the profits would be used for helping out with programs." The tribe said it plans to start growing next spring.

Los Angeles to Stop Giving Tax Certificates to Unpermitted Dispensaries. The city council voted Wednesday to stop giving tax certificates for new medical marijuana dispensaries. In 2013, the city approved Measure D, which banned most dispensaries, but that hasn't stopped them from opening. The city had been issuing tax certificates to them, but the council agreed that it was "insincere" to collect taxes from shops the city was working to shut down. Click on the link for much more detail.

Drug Policy

Charleston, West Virginia, Mayor Calls for Drug Decriminalization. Charleston Mayor Danny Jones told local talk radio Wednesday that reducing crime requires radical changes in the drug laws. "I don't think we're going to be able to arrest our way out of it. I think we're going to have to look at these drug laws," Jones said. "The money you would save from incarcerations, which would be in the multi-billions you could use to help people. The crime there (in the west side of the city) would end overnight if you legalize or decriminalized drugs, but there would have to be a way to get drugs to people who needed them… to end the criminality in it."

Harm Reduction

North Carolina Governor Signs Partial Needle Decriminalization Bill. Gov. Pat McCrory last week signed into law House Bill 712, the Pilot Project/Used Needle Disposal bill. Under the bill, people who tell police they are carrying needles cannot be charged with either paraphernalia or drug possession based on residues in the needles. The bill also allows a handful of counties to undertake pilot needle disposal programs. The effort was led by the North Carolina Harm Reduction Coalition.

Sentencing

6,000 Federal Drug Prisoners Start Going Home This Weekend. Some 6,000 granted sentence reductions as a result of policy changes by the US Sentencing Commission will be released from prisons and halfway houses beginning tomorrow and going through the weekend. About one-third are foreigners who will be deported, but the other two thirds are going home to US communities. Another 8,500 are eligible for early release in the coming year.

International

Mexico Supreme Court Postpones Marijuana Legalization Case. The country's high court has delayed action on a case arguing that Mexicans have a human right to cultivate and consume marijuana. There is no word on when it will be heard.

Bolivian President's Backers Make Coca Campaign Contributions. Backers of President Evo Morales, a former coca growers' union leader, are providing bags of coca and potatoes for their campaign to seek a constitutional amendment to allow him to seek a third term in 2019. One coca grower union leader said his members had pledged 20 tons of coca to be sold to raise money for the effort. That would raise about $120,000 and, they point out, that coca would not be turned into cocaine.

(This article was prepared by StoptheDrugWar.org's lobbying arm, the Drug Reform Coordination Network, which also pays the cost of maintaining this web site. DRCNet Foundation takes no positions on candidates for public office, in compliance with section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code, and does not pay for reporting that could be interpreted or misinterpreted as doing so.)

Double Standard? Marijuana or Hemp? DEA Indian Tribe Raid Raises Questions [FEATURE]

This article was produced in collaboration with AlterNet and will appear at http://www.alternet.org/drugs/.

Taking advantage of a 2014 Justice Department memo giving Indian tribes a green light to participate in marijuana commerce, as well as a 2014 congressional vote allowing for industrial hemp pilot programs, Wisconsin's Menominee Tribe earlier this year planted some 30,000 cannabis plants as part of a pilot project with the College of the Menominee Nation.

Last Friday, the DEA came and cut them all down.

The DEA says the plants were marijuana plants; the tribe says they were hemp plants. In either case, tribal officials and marijuana reform advocates don't understand why the grow was raided. Even if it were marijuana, it appears to be an operation well within Justice Department guidelines. And that's leading to some pointed questions about whether the feds have one standard for pot-legal states and another for the tribe-legal jurisdictions.

The memo that allows for marijuana commerce on the reservation includes eight potential enforcement triggers first formulated in a 2013 Justice Department memo (the Cole memo) advising federal prosecutors to lay off of recreational and medical marijuana operations in states where they are legal. Those triggers include diversion to other localities, money going to organized crime, and violence associated with the trade, among others.

The raid came after the tribe allowed a Bureau of Indian Affairs employee and local police to inspect the operation and take plant samples. And that visit came after a meeting between the BIA agent, the local cops, and an assistant US attorney.

According to the DEA affidavit for a search warrant, the samples tested positive for "marijuana," although there was no measurement of THC levels in the plants.

Industrial hemp is high in fiber, but low in THC, with levels at 0.3% or less. Pot produced for the recreational market, by contrast, typically has THC levels of 15% to 20% and beyond. There is a possibility some of the plants could exceed the 0.3% limit, but not by much.

The DEA affidavit also attempted to make a case that the hemp grow was violating those Justice Department triggers. The tribe had hired Colorado cannabis consultant Brian Goldstein to consult on its grow, and Goldstein, along with Tribal Chairwoman Ruth Wapoose, had in fact guided the feds and the local cops on their tour of the operation.

But Goldstein was "white," the affidavit noted, and several other people present appeared "non-native," and some vehicles had Colorado plates. This, the affidavit somewhat tortuously argued, violated the memo's provision about diversion from states where marijuana is legal to those where it is not. It seems to claim that hiring a cannabis consultant from a legal state is equivalent to importing pot from that state.

A field of hemp at sunrise. (votehemp.org)
The affidavit also stretched to assert the operation was setting off other enforcement triggers. The lack of ventilation in a drying room "is a health and safety concern for the community and the individuals associated with the operation, which is a violation of the enumerated priorities listed in the Cole memorandum regarding adverse public health concerns of marijuana cultivation," it argued.

But drying hemp stalks in closed barns is standard practice and is used by farmers around the country, including those who produced legal hemp crops this year in Colorado and Kentucky.

And security personnel guarding the property had guns, leading the BIA agent to question "the ability for the security team to have weapons for protection because it would violate the Cole memorandum."

Now, the grow has been destroyed, any decision on criminal prosecution is in the hands of federal prosecutors, and the tribe and other observers are wondering just what is going on. After all, the Menominee aren't the only tribe to take the Justice Department at its word, only to be raided down the road.

This past summer, the DEA hit two California tribes, the Pit River Tribe and the Alturas Indian Rancheria, seizing 12,000 plants. The feds alleged Cole memorandum violations including financing from a foreign entrepreneur and fears the marijuana would be distributed outside the reservations in ways that violated the state's medical marijuana law. And the US attorney in South Dakota a month earlier refused to agree to lift an injunction barring Oglala Sioux tribal member Alex White Plume from growing hemp, which the Oglala Sioux Nation has legalized.

Are the tribes being held to a different standard than states where it is legal? Has there been a policy shift at Justice? Are individual federal prosecutors going off the reservation?

Menominee Tribal Chairman Gary Besaw doesn't know, but he isn't happy about it.

"I am deeply disappointed that the Obama administration has made the decision to utilize the full force of the DEA to raid our Tribe," he said in a statement after the raid. "We offered to take any differences in the interpretation of the farm bill to federal court. Instead, the Obama administration sent agents to destroy our crop while allowing recreational marijuana in Colorado. I just wish the President would explain to tribes why we can't grow industrial hemp like the states, and even more importantly, why we don't deserve an opportunity to make our argument to a federal judge rather than having our community raided by the DEA?"

Neither was Eric Steenstra, head of the hemp industry advocacy organization Vote Hemp.

"The DEA action in this case is egregious, excessive and presents an unjust prejudice against Indian Country and the rights of sovereign tribal nations," he said. "The Menominee Indian Tribe cultivated their industrial hemp in accordance with Federal Law, per the legislation put forth in the Farm Bill. This is a step backward, at a time when great progress has otherwise been made toward legalizing and regulating industrial hemp cultivation."

In an interview with US News and World Report, tribal law expert Lance Morgan, a member of Nebraska's Winnebago tribe who has worked with tribal governments pondering marijuana operations, said the Cole memorandum guidelines are not being applied consistently and warned the Menominee raid would be remembered as a historic betrayal.

"How can you allow people to buy marijuana in a retail environment in some states and then raid an industrial hemp operation of a tribe? The only difference is that there is a tribe involved," he said. "This odd federal policy of encouraging investment and then raiding the new business sets us back a few decades in federal tribal trust and economic policy."

The raids against tribal pot operations will kill investment in such ventures, Morgan said.

"The new federal policy of 'sort of' allowing tribes to get into the marijuana business is especially cruel and unusual because it encourages investment, but after the investment is made the federal government comes and shuts it down and the investors lose all their money."

Tribal law expert and former head of New York's Seneca Nation Robert Odawi Porter agreed that there is at least the appearance of a double standard.

"This certainly suggests a real divergence in policy approach for Indian country," compared to the pot-legal states, which have been allowed to develop enormous marijuana industries, he said. "It increasingly looks like the Justice Department guidelines are not being interpreted in the same way as they were intended."

It seems like the Justice Department has some explaining and clarifying to do. Can the tribes participate in the new marijuana economy like that states, or not? And does the DEA accept the legal definition and status of hemp? If not, why?

Bernie Sanders Seeks End to Federal Marijuana Prohibition in the Senate

Presidential contender Bernie Sanders announced his support for ending federal marijuana prohibition at a town hall at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia, Wednesday night. He will announce a bill that would remove marijuana from the list of federally controlled substances, end federal marijuana prohibition, and let states set their own policies without federal interference.

"Too many Americans have seen their lives destroyed because they have a criminal record as a result of marijuana use," Sanders said in prepared remarks for the event. "That's wrong. That has got to change."

No other presidential candidate in either party has gone as far as the independent Vermont senator. Democrat Martin O'Malley has called for placing marijuana in Schedule II, but Sanders wants it descheduled. Hillary Clinton has yet to stake out a position on federal marijuana reform, saying she wants to see how legalization is working in Colorado, Oregon, and Washington first.

The Sanders plan would not make marijuana legal in the states, but would remove the specter of federal interference for those states that choose to change their pot laws. His plan would also let marijuana businesses in legal states use financial services and take tax deductions currently unavailable to them under federal law.

Sanders is in line with national public opinion on the issue. Support for legalization has consistently polled at 50% or greater in recent years, and a Gallup poll this month had support at its highest level ever, 58%, tied with the poll's 2013 finding.

"Clearly Bernie Sanders has looked at the polls showing voter support for marijuana legalization," said Michael Collins, deputy director of national affairs for the Drug Policy Action, the political arm of the Drug Policy Alliance. "Marijuana reform was already moving forward in Congress but we expect this bill to give reform efforts a big boost."

Look for Sanders' bill to be filed as early as tomorrow.

(This article was prepared by StoptheDrugWar.org's lobbying arm, the Drug Reform Coordination Network, which also pays the cost of maintaining this web site. DRCNet Foundation takes no positions on candidates for public office, in compliance with section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code, and does not pay for reporting that could be interpreted or misinterpreted as doing so.)

This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

A Houston cop's foot fetish gets him in trouble, a Georgia deputy's meth habit proves problematic, and a New Mexico police chief's greed costs him his job. Let's get to it:

In Lawrenceville, Georgia, a Gwinnett County sheriff's deputy was arrested last Wednesday after police found drugs inside his home. Deputy Trenell Bullock was being served with administrative paperwork when police saw meth and drug paraphernalia in plain view. He has been charged with unspecified drug offenses.

In Santa Fe, New Mexico, the former Springer police chief pleaded guilty last Thursday to helping a deputy steal $7,500 from men they thought were drug dealers, but who turned out to be undercover state and federal agents. Former Chief Leon Herrera admitted to posing as a DEA agent to help his deputy persuade the supposed drug couriers to hand over the cash. He pleaded guilty to impersonating a federal officer, and is now looking at up to three years in prison. His deputy, Vidal Sandoval, has pleaded not guilty to attempting to possess cocaine with the intent to distribute and theft of government money.

In Houston, a former Cypress-Fairbanks school district police officer was sentenced last Wednesday to a year in jail for offering to not charge a woman he caught with marijuana if she let him lick her feet or gave him her underwear. Patrick Quinn, 27, told the victim he had a foot fetish, but he later relented and let her go without any kinky favors. He copped to one count of official oppression.

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